Blues organizational depth analysis, Fall 2009

By Robby Lewis

Even with the graduations of forwards Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie from the prospect pool, there is still a lot of talent in the Blues system. St. Louis is set on building a contender, and they have the raw ingredients to make it happen in the upcoming years.

Center

The center position is the deepest among the Blues forwards, however, none of the centers will likely be ready to play in the NHL any time soon.

Lars Eller is in his first professional season after a great season with Vastra Frolunda HC Goterborg of the SEL. Injuries have been a problem for him, but the 20-year old remains the Blues top forward prospect. Mononucleosis cost Eller a chance to make an impression during training camp. He excels in all aspects on the offensive side of the ice, can play center or wing, and he also has a strong defensive mindset. A full season with Peoria could be just what he needs to adjust his game to the North American style. Eller has nine points in 10 games there so far. He could be called up to the Blues later this season.

After a breakout season with the Calgary Hitmen, Brett Sonne had an outside shot at making the Blues during training camp, but the offensive-minded 20-year-old will spend his first professional season with the Peoria Rivermen. The 20-year-old is off to a slow start with no points in seven games.

Philip McRae had perhaps the best training camp out of all the prospects. The 19-year-old showed the coaches that there are no questions about his offensive touch. His skating has improved, and another strong season with the London Knights would put him in a great spot next year. McRae has 14 points in 14 games so far this year for London.

After going to the Ottawa 67’s last season, Anthony Nigro showed that he has an offensive game to go along with his defense and toughness. He has 11 points in nine games this season, and continues to be a rock in front of the net for the 67’s. Nigro is 19.

Steady center Nicholas Drazenovic remains a constant in the Rivermen lineup. He has worked a lot on his offensive game, and could have a breakout year. The 22-year-old is off to a fast start with 11 points in 10 games. He had just 33 points in 76 games last season.

The Blues 2006 second-round pick Tomas Kana had brief stints with the Rivermen last season, but he’s back with the Alaska Aces, where he played most of last year. The 21-year-old Kana has yet to play a game this season because of a shoulder injury.

Jori Lehtera has possibly the best hands and vision of any Blues prospect. He didn’t show much in his seven games with Peoria last year, and has returned to the Tappara Tampere where the 21-year-old is continuing to be an offensive star with 22 points in 17 games.

Trevor Nill did not display much offense during his first season with Michigan State. But he is a strong skater and could wind up being a good role player. The 20-year-old has no points in six games with MSU this year.

Chris Porter spent time with the Blues early last season, but spent most of the season with Peoria. The 25-year-old is a strong skater and good defensive forward, and could fill in on the Blues bottom six. Porter has seven points in 10 games with the Rivermen.

After the decision to not go to the University of Wisconsin, Travis Erstad appears content with staying at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The decision to not play NCAA hockey will likely hurt the soon to be 21-year-old’s development, but Erstad remains offensively talented with a 6’4, 182-pound frame.

Wing

Aaron Palushaj signed a pro contract last April after a great season with the University of Michigan. The 20-year-old showed offensive glimpses in his short stints with Peoria last season and with the Blues during training camp. His scoring is what he is known for, so he needs to make an impression in the points department with the Rivermen this season. So far he has just three points in nine games in Peoria.

Eller’s former linemate Simon Hjalmarsson will try to have the same success as Eller did last season in the SEL. Hjalmarsson is often the forgotten name in the long list of Blues prospects, but the 20-year-old has all the tools to be a top-six winger. He must continue to add muscle and gain confidence to move on the radar. He has three points in 15 games for the Rogle Angelholm this season.

With Calgary Hitmen teammate Sonne turning pro, Ian Schultz has a chance to play in more offensive situations this season. Schultz is a solid two-way player, and projects to be the kind of third liner that every team needs. Schultz has 12 points in 17 games this season.

Twenty-two-year-old Jay Barriball is staying for his senior year at the University of Minnesota, and hopes that last year’s rebound year will prove to not be a fluke. The 5’9, 155-pound center has four points in five games, but continues to not let size be an issue with his puck possession.

James Livingston enters his fourth season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. Livingston was not that good in his own zone last season, but scores a good bit. The 19-year-old must improve both this year. He has 14 points in 17 games this season and is a team-high plus-5.

Nikolai Lemtyugov was frustrated with not getting a chance to play for the Blues, and continues playing for the Cherepovets Severstal of the KHL. It is unlikely the 23-year-old will return to North America. He has nine points in 20 games in the KHL. Sergei Andronov will also play in the KHL this season. The Blues are very high on Andronov’s two-way ability, but he plans to spend another year in Russia before he tries his luck in North America. The 20-year-old has eight points in 21 games for a defensive team.

A breakout season put Tyler Shattock on the radar of lots of NHL teams before this year’s draft. The 19-year-old is known for his very heavy shot, and solid speed. He has 20 points in 16 games for the Kamloops Blazers.

Ryan Reaves could play on a lot of NHL teams right now, but the Blues have a lot of players that fit his bill, so he is stuck in Peoria. The 22-year-old is fast, works hard and not afraid to fight. He can put the puck in the net at times too. He has two points and 22 penalty minutes in 10 games.

Defensemen

The Blues depth of defensive prospects is their best asset. They added to an already good group during the past draft.

Top prospect Alex Pietrangelo started last season with St. Louis, and is doing the same this year. He was good, but not great for Niagara last year, but he has matured and is continuing to work on filling out his large frame. During training camp, Pietrangelo showed that he has the ability to quarterback a power play and is very responsible in his own end. There are very few flaws that can be found in his game. The 19-year-old keeps getting better, a lot better. He has a goal in five games for the Blues, but is -6. Pietrangelo will likely go back to junior after his nine-game trial, but the Blues will space it out longer this time before he goes.

David Rundblad, the team’s top 2009 pick, is very good at puck transition. He uses his great stick-handling ability to steal the puck and he can deliver strong saucer passes to get the puck out of the zone. The 19-year-old’s shot is accurate, but could be stronger. He is very good at using his teammates and displays good playmaking ability. Shoring up his defense will be he and his team’s first priority this season. He has one point in 13 games for the Skelleftea HC this season.

St. Louis hoped 20-year-old Ian Cole would decide to go pro this year, but he opted for another season at Notre Dame. His strength and size continue to be his best assets. The Blues will get a very mature defenseman when he chooses to make the jump. He has three points in eight games this year.

Cade Fairchild is an offensive defenseman. The 20-year-old needs to be more responsible on his own end, but is still a work in progress for the University of Minnesota. He has one point in six games so far.

Steve Wagner and David Warsofsky are also offensively-oriented. The 25-year-old Wagner looks very confident when he’s trying to score, but not so confident when forwards are trying to score on him. Wagner has one point in nine games with Peoria. Warsofsky, who’s 5’8 and 160 pounds, almost always has to fight a size mismatch, and he missed quite a few assignments during the stretch run for Boston University last season. He has four points in five games this season for BU.

Jonas Junland is just waiting for an opportunity. It appears that he has immensely improved an already steady offensive game. He has 12 points, including six goals, in 10 games for Peoria this year. The 21-year-old also has improved his once-questioned defensive awareness while playing for the Rivermen. The Blues were waiting for Junland to arrive, and it appears that his time has about come and he could be called up this season.

Alexander Hellstrom did not impress during his two seasons in North America. He could not remain a constant in the Rivermen lineup, and wound up being sent to the ECHL. The 22-year-old has returned to Sweden to play in the SEL, and may not return. He is pointless in five games there.

The Blues drafted Brett Ponich in the second round of the past draft for his size and work ethic. At 6’6 and 204 pounds, Ponich is absolute beast. The 18-year-old, who looked very good at the Traverse City Tournament, has nine points in 18 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.

Kristoffer Berglund had a great season in his first year with Lulea HF of the SEL. He has good offensive instincts, and is very good at moving the puck. The 21-year-old Swede has four points in 15 games this year.

Ryan Turek and T.J. Fast both started the season in Alaska. Call-ups have given Fast a chance in Peoria the past two seasons, but Turek has yet to taste the AHL. The 22-year-old Turek has one point in five games for the Aces and Fast, who is 22, has been constantly up and down between the two teams. Both project as depth defensemen.

David Shields plays a solid stay-at-home style, but he is not lost on the offensive side of the ice. During his second season with the Erie Otters last season, his offense improved a lot, and he should improve more this season. He has five points in 17 games so far this season.

Anthony Peluso displays a tough, physical presence. The 20-year-old will likely spend most of his rookie season in Alaska. So far he has two scoreless games there.

St. Louis signed Marc Cundari as a free agent for his offensive potential. The 19-year-old defender is in his fourth season with the Windsor Spitfires and has 17 points in 19 games.

Goaltenders

Goaltending remains the weak point in the Blues group of prospects. They have not focused on drafting goalies, and need to restock.

Jake Allen had a good season for the Montreal Juniors last year. He improved his save percentage and GAA, but the biggest thing was that Allen proved he could win for his team on nights when they didn’t play well. He was peppered with shots all season, and still had a winning record, including three shutouts. This year, the 19-year-old is 4-5-1 for the Junior, and has a .916 save percentage to go along with a 2.47 GAA.

Ben Bishop needs to have a breakout season for Peoria this year. At 6’7 and 205 pounds, Bishop is huge, but can’t rely just on that. The St. Louis native is 3-1-1 with a .896 save percentage and 2.71 GAA this season, splitting time with Hannu Toivonen.

The Blues drafted Paul Karpowich for his play under pressure. The 21-year-old is a steady goaltender, and can make big saves. But he likely does not have the talent to ever be anything more than a backup. He is a sophomore at Clarkson University.